Coach Ron Crawford knew Brentwood would have to play perfectly to to beat Oakland.
Unfortunately for the Bruins, they did not.
“We turned it over three times in the first half and gave them the short field twice,” Crawford said. “Made a couple of defensive errors and just didn’t stop them at all.”
Brentwood finished second in the state after a 56-33 loss to Oakland in the Class 6A final at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium in Cookeville on Saturday night.
The Patriots (15-0) put an exclamation point on the first undefeated season in school history with a powerful running game led by Jordan James and Antonio Patterson.
James rushed for 226 yards and six touchdowns on 23 carries. Patterson added 176 yards and two TDs on 18 carries.
“I think Jordan James and Antonio Patterson are special,” Crawford said. “That’s why James has all the Power Five offers.”
James, a junior, has seven Southeastern Conference offers, including Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, according to 247 Sports.
“The size differential of their offensive line and our defensive front just wears you down, man,” Crawford said. “You’re fighting a guy 40 or 50 pounds heavier than you, so it’s a tough matchup for us.”
Brentwood (11-4) narrowed the deficit to 7-6 late in the first quarter, but the Patriots answered with three consecutive rushing TDs to build their lead to 28-6 by the end of the quarter.
“You can’t play from behind against them because they run the ball and milk the clock and they limit your snaps,” Crawford said.
Brentwood’s Aaron Walton caught three TD receptions and had six catches for 164 yards.
“This is going to sound crazy, but I’m not surprised,” Crawford said. “Aaron is a very good football player that’s had big nights before and he’s going to continue to have big nights next year. I think he came in with 50-something catches and he’s a touchdown guy. Yeah, he played wonderfully.”
The Bruins overcame a lot of adversity this season, including the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple injuries and the passing of Crawford’s mother, Pat, who was defensive line coach Tom Crawford’s wife.
“We were talking about it in the locker room with some of the seniors, we’ve got to get back together in five to 10 years to tell the story of this season with everything that happened,” Crawford said. “Probably at that point we’ll have so much joy about what a journey we took and an opportunity to grow as people and players. We were just talking about the number of shoulder surgeries we’ve got coming up.”
The Brentwood seniors won 31 games, three straight Region 6-6A titles and made two quarterfinal appearances in 2019 and 2018.
Bruins senior Walker Merrill, a Tennessee commit, finished with five catches for 73 yards, adding to his school record of 99 receptions this season.
“That’s missing three games,” Crawford said. “Two full games and two halves of others. Over 1,200 yards (this year) so what a career and what a year by that guy. Battled two separate hamstring injuries.”
Merrill pulled his right hamstring twice and his left hamstring once this season.
“I was in and out of PT every day just trying to get back with the team,” Merrill said. “I literally played with a rubber band as my left hamstring one game. I had a rubber band attached to my calf and then attached to my thigh and it would make my leg lift for me so I wouldn’t have to use it. I would not have been able to play without it.”
Brentwood’s Cade Granzow, an Auburn baseball signee and preferred walk-on in football, had 186 passing yards, three TDs and two interceptions in his final high school game before exiting with a shoulder injury in his non-throwing arm with 11:03 left.
“It was just a blessing to even make it this far with this group of guys because of the whole COVID thing and we’ve overcome so much adversity,” Granzow said. “We’re a fighting team and we don’t stop.”
Oakland seized a commanding 42-12 halftime lead, breaking the state record for most points in the first two quarters. James, a Brentwood Academy transfer, exploded for 209 yards and five TDs in the first half.
The Patriots stretched their lead to 56-18 with 4:51 remaining, but Bruins backup quarterback Davis White threw two TD passes during the final 2:42.
“I think we definitely made it further than a lot of people expected,” said Bruins linebacker Spencer Rich, who played with double shoulder braces to fight through injuries.
James’ combination of speed and power made him tough to tackle.
“He’s just a really shifty kid and it takes a lot to bring him down,” Rich said. “We weren’t doing a good job of wrapping up and I think that was one of our biggest problems.”
Oakland outrushed Brentwood 468-55 with its scheme that combines elements of the wing T and the spread offense.
“We just didn’t tackle the way we wanted to, but that’s all it really came down to,” said Bruins cornerback John Howse, a Vanderbilt commit. “We were in the right spots; we just couldn’t hold on for too long.”
The Patriots won for the 42nd time in the last 43 games for their fifth state championship.
“The team has just got a great chemistry,” Oakland coach Kevin Creasy said. “There aren’t a lot of weak areas on this team. It’s a good combination of linemen, defensive players, great special teams guys, skill guys that are really impressive and we’ve never had a combination quite like this before.”
The Patriots had all the right pieces with big-time players on both sides of the ball.
The scary thing is many of those players will return next season.
“We started 10 underclassmen on defense tonight and six on offense,” Creasy said.
Oakland blanked Brentwood 37-0 during the regular season in a hastily organized game when both teams lost opponents due to the pandemic.
“We have a really good H-back and really good tight end in Bryson Dobbs and a threat to go vertical at any time at receiver in Isaiah Horton and a quarterback that can throw it and run it,” Creasy said. “So you put all those weapons out there at the same time and something’s got to give and tonight it was the run game.”
James is a complete back with speed and power.
“He’s got great wiggle and great moves,” Creasy said. “And it’s just hard for anybody to get a good hit on him.”
Oakland’s book-end tackles gave the Patriots an overpowering advantage on the edge on offense.
“Both tackles that we played tonight were 6-6, 295,” Creasy said. “When I first took the job six years ago those two guys were the only linemen that showed up at my camp. They were little runts when they showed up in sixth grade and the next thing you know they’re playing for me at close to 300 pounds.”
Like everybody else, Oakland battled through the pandemic.
“We were always stressed out about things we couldn’t control like contact tracing or the virus spreading throughout the school, how many of our guys were going to go distance learning,” Creasy said. “But we looked around and everybody was dealing with the same stuff that we were. We were able to adjust on the fly.”